Category Archives: Chastain Farm

bathroom door

Thursday, January 30th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL

I woke up at 7:30 and, since the bathroom was still out of order, went out the back door to pee. When I opened the door, I forgot about my bladder and went back inside for my camera – the view of the frosted, shining landscape sparkling and backlit in the dawn sunshine.



It was stunning.

And freezing.


I got Kristin to come out and see it with me – we went out to feed the animals.



Back in Minneapolis, it was 20 degrees at 7:30am – down here in Alpine, Alabama, it was zero degrees.


(On the other hand, Minneapolis was just getting done having 5 inches of snow dumped on them, just before the morning rush hour…)


The Old Men of Chastain Coffee Shop cannot recall it ever being this cold in this area – although one in the group recalls when it went down to 6 degrees, many years ago when he first moved to Winterboro.


The day warmed up incredibly quickly  – and was in the 50s by afternoon.

But in the meantime, I went to work on the bathroom door – Kimm had mentioned an idea to use some old tin sheets to recover the bathroom door, which was currently a patchwork of scrap boards. Without intending to do more than to look and think it over, I brought a couple choice pieces of tin and some more of the weathered cedar floor boards we’d used for the greenhouse roof and the bathroom floor projects.

But instead, the door just got done, everything falling together quickly and effortlessly into a final result I was more than pleased with – first the two sheets of tin fit together perfectly, then there was just enough board to box it in – and finally, the rusty handle and the cool iron decorative piece all came together …


The kids came over – they had school off, again, and it was Cole’s 6th birthday. When the snow was starting to soften and melt, I taught them how to roll snowballs into huge balls and create a snowman.


The snow continued to melt, as warmth came to Alabama again.




snow day II

Wednesday, January 29th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL

We woke up to the entire state of Alabama being closed.

None of the Old Men were in the coffee shop.  The commercial coffee pot sat cold and dry. There was literally no traffic on the highway out front. There was no sign of any of the farmers.


It was beautiful and still and white and humanless; a winter wonderland post-apocalypse movie set.


Kristin and I, cold-hardened Northern veterans of all things icy and cold, left the SoCal WWOOFers indoors and ventured out to feed the animals and chop open their ice-plated water supplies.


We threw away the grody broken pile of boombox that had sat on a prominent shelf in the Coffee Shop for years, gathering a thick layer of dirty dust and cobwebs.


It was replaced with some things lying around in the Milk Barn/Kitchen/Bunkhouse/Coffee Shop building: a couple of gorgeous, smooth old aluminum milk pitchers flanking an antique geared machine that no one understood.


Eventually, Nathan & Jimmy arrived in their 4 wheel drive vehicles. Nathan had gone in the ditch once already, but gotten out without too much trouble. Schools were closed again. People were trapped all over the place. The roads were not passable without great caution, luck, and ability to plan a route that avoided icy, impassable uphills.

Jimmy drives a load of us down the road to Natahan's to use the bathroom
Jimmy driving a load of us down the road to Nathan’s to use the bathroom, since the septic tank was still out of commission

The 50 day-old chicks were supposed to arrive today – this is what we had built the brooder box for, prepared the building, bought bedding, etc. But the USPS was closed. The company that had shipped them had no idea where they were – the whole shipment was presumed stuck on some icy highway and deceased. We felt bad for the chickens, and disappointed that we would not get to see our work on the brooder in action with piles of baby chickens.

overseer cat

Then we got to work on a little project to stop the loss of most of the woodstove’s heat, through the huge vent fan built into the ceiling. It needed to be removable, so they could take it down in the summer, when the vent was a lifesaver in the combined heat of canning and summertime.   We fashioned a simple wood panel, held in place with wood blocks that were snug but spun easily thanks to some large washers on both sides.


In the afternoon, Nathan & Rachel’s two children came over. They were excited by the unprecedented snowfall, but not sure how to work with it. I taught them how to pack snowballs – how to choose good snow, how to pack with cupped hands.



I also told them to wear gloves to do so. The boy didn’t listen no matter how many times I repeated that part. He cried a bit when his hands started to thaw out and that special tingly-skin pain kicked in … but then went back to packing snowballs without gloves, and running inside to thaw his hands in a big bowl of hot water every few minutes.


When he ambushed his sister, I explained to her the fine art of sneaky snow revenge – how to smuggle some snow behind her unsuspecting victim, and then dump it down the back of his shirt. She tested it out on her brother, and then graduated to snow-prising her Dad.

hanging out in the Coffee Shop
hanging out in the Coffee Shop


We cut up some downed trees and limbs for firewood, allowing Nathan to hone his tree-lassoing skills, in our effort to safely pull down a huge dead branch that was menacing the fence of Blossom (the old horse).


Then we hunkered down, burned firewood, hung out, and talked, with our voices slipping into occasional acquired Alabaman drawls, similar to by distinct from the accent we briefly picked up while in Mississippi …

Snow Day

Tuesday, January 28th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL

Today is our first day without a working bathroom, due to the full septic tank. We take walks over to Jimmy’s house to use the bathroom, and enjoy the opportunity to see his lair.


There was a little snow in the forecast. We all knew it. But we didn’t expect much – I didn’t expect it to stick, even if enough fell to accumulate. So when a dusting began in the mid morning, we quickly took a few photos to document the transient flurry before evidence was gone.


But the snow continued throughout the morning.


And then it intensified.


And in Alabama, the Snow Day began.


By the time school got out, the roads were icy.


There were no salt trucks, and no one really knows how to drive on snow or ice here.



Across the region, highways became parking lots.


Children had to spend the night at school because the buses could not run, and their parents were unable to pick them up – because the roads were not passable, or, in some cases, because the parents were, themselves, trapped – at their workplaces, where many spent the night.




Across the border, Atlanta, Georgia completely shut down in perfect gridlock. The South was frozen solid, making headlines around the world.





It was beautiful.





meanwhile, inside the greenhouse
meanwhile, inside the greenhouse …


pot racking

Monday, January 27th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL


Today we woke up at 7:30 and took a pleasant morning walk out to feed the pigs. I really enjoy the morning walks we’ve taken almost daily at both farms to date, and suspect it will be a habit we take home to live with us.


When we got back, we drilled out holes in the chicken brooder box for the light fixtures to fit through from above, and built simple boxes for them to mount to.



Kimm and Nathan adding the wiring to the fixtures
Kimm and Nathan adding wiring to the brooder box fixtures

Then we addressed the pots/kitchen space issue. The Chastain Farm does a lot of selling their canned goods, and they had a lot of large aluminum & stainless steel containers and strainers and such as a result. These took up a lot of shelf space – a pot rack would free up a lot of very desirable surface.

scavenging in the Tool Barn hay loft
scavenging in the Tool Barn hay loft


Up in the Tool Barn’s hay loft, we’d found a pair of aluminum truck bed rails that would make perfect pot holders, with the addition of some kind of s-hooks.


So we brought them into the kitchen and screwed them up deeply into a ceiling joist. That was the easy part – then came the hunt for hanging hooks.


After lunch, we combed through every room of every shed and barn on the land, seeking variations of an s-hook, or things that could be used to connect in other ways. We found a lot of things we hadn’t yet seen, thanks to this search.



While we were looking, I found the pitcher from an old Mr. Coffee maker that would be a perfect and appropriate light shade for the ceiling fan’s bare bulb in the Chastain “Coffee Shop.”*

IMG_6427*the ‘Coffee Shop’ is the room next door to our kitchen / wood heater hang out / living quarters, which served as the Farm’s office & Folgers Dispensary, to WWOOFers and farmers and, most of all, the regular morning crowd: “The Old Men,” who arrived around 6 am to shoot the shit & drink the coffee before getting to work, just as they had every workday for decades.


We eventually returned with a bucket full of bits including the things we wound up using: old aluminum milking hooks, a disused slotted serving spoon, a hay hook, clamps, a threaded dowel bent into a perfect long s-shape, a chain link fence post brace, rotted bungee cord s-hooks, chain, a bracket, and some openable chain link things I don’t recall the name of.



Then the shit hit; I used the bathroom. After completing my business I flushed the toilet, and stood to wash my hands and leave. I heard water splashing, and looked down to see, visible between the slats of the cedar platform we’d built, water welling up from the floor drain, flooding the floor with toilet water. Needless to say, I was glad we’d made the flooring; without it I’d have had some gross feet to clean up.

It turned out that the septic tank was full, and backing up as a result. So while Kristin and Kimm and the SoCal WWOOFers worked with the crew to cement the greenhouse support poles into their final positions, I helped Nathan fetch the pump and do some smelly work, moving the overflow puddle away from the building. I handled the hose and used a board to clear toilet paper off of the intake, which otherwise become clogged immediately. I was glad to have had fun adventures exploring sewer tunnels in my past; the smell actually has positive connotations for me, so it was no trouble to deal with.



We helped the others finish off the cement work, hauled in the tools and extra bags of unused cement, bringing one opened bag to the brooder house, to fill in a hole that had eroded in the the doorway.

fossil kitten prints in the old cement next to the new patch
fossil kitten prints in the old cement next to the new patch
Speck the Elder

It was a good day’s work!


lichen covered oak branch bouquet
tied together with poison ivy roots. oops.




tall tall trees

Sunday, January 26th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL 
the gang of roosters recently made free-ranging after a life in a cage being fed regularly. they’re an interesting crew.
feeding pigs
feeding pigs

Today was Sunday – a day we’d decided to take as a personal day, to explore and get in touch with the surrounding area. We picked a lake up on a little mountain, in a state park within a national forest, and mapped a route that avoided major roads, and took us meandering through the back roads, hills, and valleys.


We pulled into a little dead end and found a decommissioned railroad bridge over a creek, and decided to check it out.















Further down the road, an unposted drive to the simplified remains of a structure beckoned to us.











Then we hit the road up into the mountains. Or hills. Whatever, They seem mountainous enough for me, There were kids riding longboards down the hills up at the tops, and 4×4 truck offroaders down in the bottoms (complete with huge Confederate flags waving from their roofs) – but only a handful of each, and they were almost the only humans we encountered all day.



A controlled burn of some sort left a blasted landscape.




An old cemetery in the hills used lichen covered chunks of rocks as grave markers and to pile upon shallow graves.






Then off to the next ruins and discoveries

IMG_6401 IMG_6378

rusty enamelware discovery: future lampshade!
rusty enamelware discovery: future lampshade!

    P1080001 IMG_6371   P1080003 P1080006

hawk perched on kudzu-buried ruins
hawk perched on kudzu-buried ruins




IMG_6412 IMG_6410

junkpile find becomes a shade for the bare bulb of the Milk Barn bedroom lamp
junkpile find becomes a shade for the bare bulb of the Milk Barn bedroom lamp